By The Nation
THE OFFICE of the Judiciary has cited “laws” as the reason why it cannot suspend construction of the controversial residences for court officials at the foot of Chiang Mai’s Doi Suthep mountain or demolish some of those buildings despite growing calls from locals and environmentalists.
“If we stop the construction, we will be sued for breaching construction contracts. In that case, the government will have to pay compensation using the state budget,” the Office’s secretary-general, Sarawut Benjakul, said yesterday.
He added that the Office also could not order the demolition of buildings in the ongoing construction projects because such an action would also be against the law.
“If we order the demolition, the Office of the Auditor-General may hold us liable for damages,” he explained.
Sarawut was speaking after the executive board of the Courts of Justice discussed the controversy arising from the Office’s decision to construct an office building for the Court of Appeals Region 5 and residences for court officials at Doi Suthep. These projects were sanctioned with a budget of nearly Bt1 billion.
Hundreds of people staged a rally in Chiang Mai province on Sunday to demand the construction project be scrapped. They said the projects had apparently encroached on forestland and caused environmental damage. The military has tried to mediate in the dispute by arranging talks among the parties. However, none of the court’s representatives has so far sat down to talk to opponents at a session arranged by the military.
Sarawut maintained yesterday that the construction site did not encroach on the nearby Doi Suthep-Pui National Park and argued that it was in the same line as the Chiang Mai Night Safari, the Chiang Mai University agricultural dyke, Chang Khian Community and Chang Puak Community. “You can see the alignment clearly from bird’s eye-view pictures,” he said.
Photo from Twitter @K5_Rescue
Regarding allegations of environmental damage, Sarawut said his Office had not cut down any big trees because all those more than 30 centimetres in diameter at the construction site had been dug up and relocated. The relocated trees included four teak trees, 29 Burma Paduak trees and 86 Antimony trees, he said.
He added that the Office also planned to plant 6,400 new trees in the area after the construction was completed. “Because of constraints in our budget and human resources, we will have to ask for government support for the greening effort,” he said.
Even though the Office cancelled its participation in the scheduled military-mediated session on the dispute at almost the last minute yesterday morning, the Third Army Area commander Lt-General Vijak Siribansop still decided to go ahead with the meeting. He listened to opponents of the court officials’ residences in the presence of Chiang Mai Governor Pawin Chamniprasart and representatives from various government agencies. Participants concluded that a committee would be set up to survey the construction site to determine by April 19 how many buildings encroached on forestland and should be demolished. Vijak said he would report the proposals to Army chief General Chalermchai Sittiprasart.
Teerasak Rupsuwan, coordinator of the Network to Reclaim Doi Suthep Forest, said 45 houses and four apartment buildings for court officials would have to be demolished.